by JuPong Lin
MFAIA faculty advisor Devora Neumark and I offered a group study in Decolonial and Indigenous Art practice last semester. The co-learning experience was truly collaborative, transformative, and inspiring in the depth of the work of co-constructing collective knowledge. Participants engaged deeply with questions of decolonial practice and the challenges to indigenous well-being; we also learned each others’ stories, lineages, influences that shape who we are becoming as change-makers. Our collective inquiry revealed, through the diverse voices of participants, a wide range of approaches to decolonial practice and the wickedly sticky questions of allyship, appropriation, collaboration, indigeneity and decolonization. Each of us entered the circle from our own unique sites, as settler colonizers, as descendents of displaced people, as survivors of different forms of colonialism, genocide, white supremacy. We created a space to hear stories of colonized Ireland, U.S. nation-building and the refusal to acknowledge our history of genocide, of our complex relationships with imperialism and colonization,
As a Taiwanese immigrant to the US whose family survived Japanese colonization, the group gave me a way to examine my family’s immigration narrative from a perspective that encompasses the complexity of “my work”–the personal work of the colonized, of decolonizing my own mind, and the equally urgent work of confronting and examining how my family and I, as settlers in the state now called Illinois, have benefitted from the imperialist project of the United States. Chen Kuang-Hsing calls this process “deimperialization” in Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization.
If decolonization is mainly active work carried out on the terrain of the colonized, then deimperialization, which is no less painful and reflexive, is work that must be performed by the colonizer first, and then on the colonizer’s relation with its former colonies. The task is for the colonizing or imperializing population to examine the conduct, motives, desires, and consequences of the imperialist history that has formed its own subjectivity.
These questions — what “conduct, motives, desires, and consequences of the imperialist history” have formed my subjectivity? — give rise to the new body of work I am developing for Indivisible, alumna Christine Toth’s (MFAIA-VT ’07) residential gallery in Portland, Oregon. This body of work reclaims “everyday craft” such as paper folding, as decolonial practice. Paperfolding originated in China, likely as a ceremonial practice; then became popularized as the Japanese form known as origami. The installation will be launched in October with a performance and story circle event.
I look forward to continuing the group study with a new group of students at the upcoming MFAIA-WA residency in Port Townsend.
Current student Deanne Meek who participated in the group study wrote:
My experience in the Decolonial and Indigenous Art Practices co-learning group has profoundly helped me to develop as an artist, and as an informed global citizen. Experiencing the voices of Indigenous artists and activists has expanded my awareness of the systemic privilege I benefit from as a settler colonial, and as a citizen of a first world imperial culture…the conversations… have challenged me to step back and listen differently in order to better hear expressions of pain and struggle, but also of breathtaking courage and sovereignty.